In my last article, I explored why right-handed shooters tend to shoot down and to the left. To recap, it’s due primarily to the shooter’s instinct to control the discharge energy of the handgun. This effect has been confirmed by high-speed photography, as well as by the frustration of many shooters.
When the human body is repeatedly pushed, the natural reaction is to push back. Subconsciously, the shooter knows that every time the trigger is pressed, the result will be the handgun pushing back. It’s also indirectly created from conventional target training technique being applied to combat shooting. Traditional training doesn’t really account for the reaction to recoil. Remember, traditional training requires that when the front sight is in focus (sight picture), we press the trigger to the rear without disturbing the sight-alignment. While this will eventually allow for correct shot placement, it takes quite a while to master the recoil issue. Traditional target training philosophy creates steps or stages in the shooting process: “first, present the handgun; second, focus on the front sight; and third, press the trigger.” These steps or stages inadvertently increase the time it takes to shoot, creating an opportunity for the human body to anticipate the discharge energy.
In my previous article, I recommended dry-firing — with proper stance and technique — as the primary solution for correcting this improper response. Dry-firing “educates” the trigger finger and mind and demonstrates to the shooter what should happen when the trigger is pressed. It should be developed into a fine motor skill without conscious thought. We want our conscious thought process observing, orienting, deciding and executing what force to use on the threat, not focused on the manipulation, function or condition of our handgun. The USMC still includes two weeks of “snapping in” dry-fire work in the rifle qualification. It works and saves money. But keep in mind that shooting a handgun and shooting a rifle are different skill sets.
The answer for combat shooting is to utilize our entire body and mind, similarly to an athlete. During a deadly-force confrontation, we will make decisions based primarily on the visual information that we gather from the incident. The human eye cannot simultaneously focus on two objects that are located at different distances — we only focus on one object or plane (foveal vision). Under stress, your focus will not be on the front sight. However, by using the entire body and a conditioned response, fast and accurate shooting can be accomplished with minimal interference from recoil anticipation. Shooting a firearm for survival should be looked at as a dynamic athletic event, not a static event.
An athletic shooting stance accommodates recoil and allows for the shooter to move. In the previous article, I cited the necessity for good upper body support by locking the arms into an isosceles triangle, and a grip that puts the hand as high as possible on the handgun. A proper grip will minimize the twist or “torsion” motion, inevitable when the gun functions in recoil.
Minimizing this torsion is important for several reasons. First, it will allow for a faster and more accurate follow-up shot. Secondly, it reduces the perception of recoil against the human body. This in turn will decrease the human response to recoil; pushing back. Another recommendation is to squeeze the grip from the fore-strap to the back-strap. Don’t squeeze the grip around the circumference, as it tightens the entire hand including the trigger finger. Squeeze it from front to back, like it’s in a vice. This allows for better independent use of the trigger finger, separating the gross motor skill of the grip versus the fine motor skill of the trigger finger. Make sure that your trigger finger lands on the trigger at its lowest part for best leverage.
Here’s the shooting technique: Start from a combat shooting position. Be athletic, ready to move, in balance and ready to fight. Feet should be a little more than shoulder-width apart, strong foot slightly back. Knees bent, upper body leaning forward ready to use “body-English” to manage recoil. The lighter the officer, the more “English” should be applied.
To start the shooting sequence, find a high compressed shooting position: The handgun is held up high and level. The front of the handgun should be within the peripheral vision of the dominant eye. It may be necessary to shrug the shoulders upward. Then, present the handgun to the target by extending it straight to the target, as if it’s guided on a wire. With most modern firearms, you’ll first see two parallel sides of the slide and then the front sight in your peripheral vision. While presenting the handgun to the target and still using peripheral vision, guide the sights together and begin pressing the trigger. Focused vision should begin to transition from the threat to the front sight. As the arms are fully extended, the elbows are locked, and the trigger should break. An isosceles triangle has been obtained with the shoulders, arms and hands, allowing for zero movement and mechanically minimizing any subconscious movement.
This must become a skill-set and conditioned response, earned through the repetition of dry-firing and verified through live fire. In a similar way, a batter in baseball assesses the ball upon release. He has a proper stance and grip, and if he decides, he steps, swings and watches the ball into his bat as he hits it. Similarly, the shooter should present the handgun to the target, guide the sights together and press the trigger just as the handgun is locked into the isosceles triangle. This technique will allow for fast and accurate shooting initiated through the sense of feel (touch, using the entire body) rather than sight. The sense of feel provides for the accuracy, while vision just verifies that the handgun is where it should be. Focused vision should and will be primarily kept for watching the threat.
This technique works and minimizes anticipation. It’s especially effective for newer shooters. The key is knowing how your body will react under stress, which is critical to surviving deadly-force encounters and making decisions based upon the actions of the threat. Remember, we’re the good guys and we are accountable for every one of our rounds fired — so practice beyond the semi-annual qualifications.